Marine sediments of the Ross Sea, Antarctica, harbor microbial communities that play a significant role in the decomposition, mineralization, and recycling of organic carbon (OC). In this study, the cell densities within a 153-cm sediment core from the Ross Sea were estimated based on microbial phospholipid fatty acid (PLFA) concentrations and acridine orange direct cell counts. The resulting densities were as high as 1.7 × 107 cells mL−1 in the top ten centimeters of sediments. These densities are lower than those calculated for most near-shore sites but consistent with deep-sea locations with comparable sedimentation rates. The δ13C measurements of PLFAs and sedimentary and dissolved carbon sources, in combination with ribosomal RNA (SSU rRNA) gene pyrosequencing, were used to infer microbial metabolic pathways. The δ13C values of dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) in porewaters ranged downcore from −2.5‰ to −3.7‰, while δ13C values for the corresponding sedimentary particulate OC (POC) varied from −26.2‰ to −23.1‰. The δ13C values of PLFAs ranged between −29‰ and −35‰ throughout the sediment core, consistent with a microbial community dominated by heterotrophs. The SSU rRNA gene pyrosequencing revealed that members of this microbial community were dominated by β-, δ-, and γ-Proteobacteria, Actinobacteria, Chloroflexi and Bacteroidetes. Among the sequenced organisms, many appear to be related to known heterotrophs that utilize OC sources such as amino acids, oligosaccharides, and lactose, consistent with our interpretation from δ13CPLFA analysis. Integrating phospholipids analyses with porewater chemistry, δ13CDIC and δ13CPOC values and SSU rRNA gene sequences provides a more comprehensive understanding of microbial communities and carbon cycling in marine sediments, including those of this unique ice shelf environment.
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